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Silver Lining: 30-Year Rates Hit Record Low

30-Year Rates Hit Record Low


The average interest rate for 30-year mortgages has fallen to the lowest level since Freddie Mac began compiling its weekly survey in 1971, declining to 4.71 percent this week from 4.78 percent a week ago.

Rates also were more attractive for 15-year fixed loans, which fell from 4.29 percent to 4.27 percent, but many consumers may not have qualified for them because they now face higher credit standards from lenders.

Still, the Mortgage Bankers Association’s index of application demand, which rose 2.1 percent on a seasonally adjusted basis during Thanksgiving week from the previous week, shows that consumers were looking to take advantage of mortgage rates at a historic low.

Source: USA Today, Stephanie Armour (12/04/09) link

Glen Ellyn, Wheaton mayors make bet on state football championship

By Marco Santana | Daily Herald Staff

If Wheaton or Glen Ellyn residents doubt their respective municipal officials faith in their high school football teams, this should put it to rest.

Wheaton Mayor Mike Gresk and Glen Ellyn Village President Mark Pfefferman have made a friendly wager on Saturday’s Class 7A state football championship game between Glenbard West and Wheaton Warrenville South.

The loser will fly the other town’s flag – along with the winning school’s flag – outside his municipal offices for a week.

“I wanted to see the Glen Ellyn flag flying in Wheaton. This was a good way to get it in there,” Pfefferman said with a smile.

The game renews a long and sometimes heated rivalry between the schools that was discontinued after the 2006 season.

“It’s a classic, hometown, small-town rivalry,” Gresk said. “It’s neighboring communities growing up at the same time.”

The two schools – which sit about eight miles apart – must travel about 150 miles to Champaign for the game.

Gresk said he had hoped to do something after Glenbard West scored a last-minute touchdown to beat Lake Zurich 21-17 on Saturday. The win followed Wheaton Warrenville South’s 34-15 victory over East St. Louis in the afternoon.

When Pfefferman contacted Gresk about the flag wager, the Wheaton mayor jumped on it.

“It’s a wonderful concept,” Gresk said. “It’s good-natured and it symbolizes the spirit of the rivalry we both have.”

While Wheaton Warrenville might have the advantage of appearing in its third state championship game in four years – including a state 8A championship in 2006 – Glenbard West enters the game as the only remaining undefeated 7A team at 13-0.

“It’s great for the community,” Pfefferman said. “We were trying to think of a cost-neutral idea so we could do something that would be visible and fun and easy to do.” (continue reading at the Daily Herald)

Fannie: ‘Recovery is here’

11% growth in home sales forecast for 2010

By Inman News, Thursday, November 19, 2009.

The deepest and longest recession since the Great Depression appears to be over, Fannie Mae economists say, projecting sales of new and existing homes will jump 11 percent next year and that national home prices will stabilize, remaining essentially flat.

The mortgage guarantor’s monthly housing forecast projects 5.96 million home sales in 2010, with sales of existing homes growing by 10 percent, to 5.46 million. New-home sales are expected to rebound even more sharply in 2010, growing by 24 percent to 498,000.

“It appears that the economic recovery is here,” Fannie Mae economists Doug Duncan and Orawin Velz said in a report summarizing their economic and mortgage forecasts, although they expect it will be weak compared to previous recoveries from deep recessions.

Real gross domestic product (GDP) grew at a 3.5 percent annualized pace in the third quarter, following five declines in the prior six quarters, they noted, but growth is likely to moderate in the final three months of the year before strengthening in late 2010.

The first-time homebuyer tax credit helped boost third-quarter home sales, which also led to a jump in real estate brokerage commissions, Duncan and Velz said in their report.

A 23.3 increase in the annualized rate of residential investment (home sales) in the third quarter was the largest in more than two decades, although it came from “extremely depressed” levels, the report said. Real residential investment was contributing to economic growth again, adding 0.5 percentage points to third-quarter GDP growth.

But a survey of consumers in October showed the percentage of respondents indicating that “jobs are hard to get” hitting a new high for the downturn. In their economic forecast, Duncan and Velz said they expect the unemployment rate to average 10 percent next year, up from 9.3 percent this year and 4.6 percent in 2007.

Their housing forecast projects that housing starts will surge by 35 percent next year, from a recent historic low of 462,000 projected starts in 2009 to 624,000 next year.

Fannie Mae expects national home prices will stabilize next year, with the median resale home price remaining essentially unchanged at $170,800. That’s a 0.2 percent decline from 2009 and a 22 percent decline from 2007… (continue reading)…

10 ways to Winterize your Home — Now

You’ll get a season’s worth of savings and peace of mind by taking a few steps in the fall to get your home ready for cold weather.

By Christopher Solomon of MSN Real Estate

  (© none)

So you’ve pulled your sweaters out of mothballs and found your mittens at the bottom of the coat closet. But what about your house — is it prepared for the cold months ahead?

You’ll be a lot less comfortable in the coming months if you haven’t girded Home Sweet Home for Old Man Winter.

With the help of several experts, we’ve boiled down your autumn to-do list to 10 easy tips:

1. Clean those gutters
Once the leaves fall, remove them and other debris from your home’s gutters — by hand, by scraper or spatula, and finally by a good hose rinse — so that winter’s rain and melting snow can drain. Clogged drains can form ice dams, in which water backs up, freezes and causes water to seep into the house, the Insurance Information Institute says.
As you’re hosing out your gutters, look for leaks and misaligned pipes. Also, make sure the downspouts are carrying water away from the house’s foundation, where it could cause flooding or other water damage.

“The rule of thumb is that water should be at least 10 feet away from the house,” says Michael Broili, the director of the Well Home Program for the Phinney Neighborhood Association, a nationally recognized neighborhood group in Seattle.

2. Block those leaks
One of the best ways to winterize your home is to simply block obvious leaks around your house, both inside and out, experts say. The average American home has leaks that amount to a nine-square-foot hole in the wall, according to EarthWorks Group.

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First, find the leaks: On a breezy day, walk around inside holding a lit incense stick to the most common drafty areas: recessed lighting, window and door frames, electrical outlets.

Then, buy door sweeps to close spaces under exterior doors, and caulk or apply tacky rope caulk to those drafty spots, says Danny Lipford, host of the nationally syndicated TV show “Today’s Homeowner.” Outlet gaskets can easily be installed in electrical outlets that share a home’s outer walls, where cold air often enters.

Outside, seal leaks with weather-resistant caulk. For brick areas, use masonry sealer, which will better stand up to freezing and thawing. “Even if it’s a small crack, it’s worth sealing up,” Lipford says. “It also discourages any insects from entering your home.”

3. Insulate yourself
“Another thing that does cost a little money — but boy, you do get the money back quick — is adding insulation to the existing insulation in the attic,” says Lipford. “Regardless of the climate conditions you live in, in the (U.S.) you need a minimum of 12 inches of insulation in your attic.”

Don’t clutter your brain with R-values or measuring tape, though. Here’s Lipford’s rule of thumb on whether you need to add insulation: “If you go into the attic and you can see the ceiling joists you know you don’t have enough, because a ceiling joist is at most 10 or 11 inches.”

A related tip: If you’re layering insulation atop other insulation, don’t use the kind that has “kraft face” finish (i.e., a paper backing). It acts as a vapor barrier, Lipford explains, and therefore can cause moisture problems in the insulation.

4. Check the furnace
First, turn your furnace on now, to make sure it’s even working, before the coldest weather descends. A strong, odd, short-lasting smell is natural when firing up the furnace in the autumn; simply open windows to dissipate it. But if the smell lasts a long time, shut down the furnace and call a professional.

It’s a good idea to have furnaces cleaned and tuned annually. Costs will often run about $100-$125. An inspector should do the following, among other things:

Throughout the winter you should change the furnace filters regularly (check them monthly). A dirty filter impedes air flow, reduces efficiency and could even cause a fire in an extreme case. Toss out the dirty fiberglass filters; reusable electrostatic or electronic filters can be washed.

5. Get your ducts in a row
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a home with central heating can lose up to 60% of its heated air before that air reaches the vents if ductwork is not well-connected and insulated, or if it must travel through unheated spaces. That’s a huge amount of wasted money, not to mention a chilly house. (Check out this audit tool for other ideas on how to save on your energy bills this winter.)

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Ducts aren’t always easy to see, but you can often find them exposed in the attic, the basement and crawlspaces. Repair places where pipes are pinched, which impedes flow of heated air to the house, and fix gaps with a metal-backed tape (duct tape actually doesn’t stand up to the job over time).

Ducts also should be vacuumed once every few years, to clean out the abundant dust, animal hair and other gunk that can gather in them and cause respiratory problems.

6. Face your windows
Now, of course, is the time to take down the window screens and put up storm windows, which provide an extra layer of protection and warmth for the home. Storm windows are particularly helpful if you have old, single-pane glass windows. But if you don’t have storm windows, and your windows are leaky or drafty, “They need to be updated to a more efficient window,” says Lipford.

Of course, windows are pricey. Budget to replace them a few at a time, and in the meantime, buy a window insulator kit, Lipford and Broili recommend. Basically, the kit is plastic sheeting that’s affixed to a window’s interior with double-stick tape. A hair dryer is then used to shrink-wrap the sheeting onto the window. (It can be removed in the spring.) “It’s temporary and it’s not pretty, but it’s inexpensive (about $4 a window) and it’s extremely effective,” says Lipford.

7. Don’t forget the chimney
Ideally, spring is the time to think about your chimney, because “chimney sweeps are going crazy right now, as you might have guessed,” says Ashley Eldridge, director of education for the Chimney Safety Institute of America.

That said, don’t put off your chimney needs before using your fireplace, Eldridge advises. “A common myth is that a chimney needs to be swept every year,” says Eldridge. Not true. But a chimney should at least be inspected before use each year, he adds. “I’ve seen tennis balls and ducks in chimneys,” he says.

Ask for a Level 1 inspection, in which the professional examines the readily accessible portions of the chimney, Eldridge says. “Most certified chimney sweeps include a Level 1 service with a sweep,” he adds.

Woodstoves are a different beast, however, cautions Eldridge. They should be swept more than once a year. A general rule of thumb is that a cleaning should be performed for every ¼ inch of creosote, “anywhere that it’s found.” Why? “If it’s ash, then it’s primarily lye — the same stuff that was once used to make soap, and it’s very acidic.” It can cause mortar and the metal damper to rot, Eldridge says.

Another tip: Buy a protective cap for your chimney, with a screen, advises Eldridge. “It’s probably the single easiest protection” because it keeps out foreign objects (birds, tennis balls) as well as rain that can mix with the ash and eat away at the fireplace’s walls. He advises buying based on durability, not appearance.

One other reminder: To keep out cold air, fireplace owners should keep their chimney’s damper closed when the fireplace isn’t in use. And for the same reason, woodstove owners should have glass doors on their stoves, and keep them closed when the stove isn’t in use.

Check out CSIA’S Web site for a list of certified chimney sweeps in your area.

8. Reverse that fan
“Reversing your ceiling fan is a small tip that people don’t often think of,” says Lipford. By reversing its direction from the summer operation, the fan will push warm air downward and force it to recirculate, keeping you more comfortable. (Here’s how you know the fan is ready for winter: As you look up, the blades should be turning clockwise, says Lipford.)

9. Wrap those pipes
A burst pipe caused by a winter freeze is a nightmare. Prevent it before Jack Frost sets his grip: Before freezing nights hit, make certain that the water to your hose bibs is shut off inside your house (via a turnoff valve), and that the lines are drained, says Broili. In climes such as Portland, Ore., or Seattle, where freezing nights aren’t commonplace, you can install Styrofoam cups with a screw attachment to help insulate spigots, says Broili.

Next, go looking for other pipes that aren’t insulated, or that pass through unheated spaces — pipes that run through crawlspaces, basements or garages. Wrap them with pre-molded foam rubber sleeves or fiberglass insulation, available at hardware stores. If you’re really worried about a pipe freezing, you can first wrap it with heating tape, which is basically an electrical cord that… (continue reading at MSN Real Estate…)

Both Houses OK Tax Credit Extension, Expansion

The House today and the Senate yesterday passed legislation to extend the $8,000 home buyer tax credit to May 1, 2010, for first-time buyers and add a $6,500 tax credit for repeat buyers if they’ve lived in their home for five of the past eight years. Home prices are capped at $800,000.

The legislation in both houses was included in a bill to extend unemployment benefits and is expected to be signed by President Obama shortly.

“REALTORS® appreciate the swift action by Congress to extend the home buyer tax credit and expand it to some current homeowners,” says NAR President Charles McMillan. “As the leading advocate of housing and real estate issues, we urge President Obama to sign this legislation into law quickly to keep the momentum going in the fragile recovery of the nation’s housing market.”

Under the bill, income limits are expanded to $125,000 for individuals and $225,000 for joint filers. Individuals with incomes up to $145,000 and joint filers with incomes up to $245,000 qualify for reduced credits.

Households who have binding contracts in place by April 30 will be allowed an additional 60 days to complete their transaction. The deadline for members of the military serving out the U.S. for at least 90 days between Jan. 1, 2009, and May 1, 2010, has been extended one year.

Taxpayers can claim the credit on their federal income tax returns. If the credit exceeds their tax bill, the government will issue a check. Taxpayers will be able to claim the credit on their 2009 income tax return for purchases made in 2010.

Compare the current tax credit with the newly passed version on REALTOR.org.

More on the credit is available from NAR.

Give up home, Fannie will lease it back

‘Deed for Lease’ program avoids foreclosure

By Inman News, Friday, November 6, 2009.

Inman News

Fannie Mae is offering to let troubled borrowers who don’t qualify for a loan modification stay in their homes as renters if they volunteer to relinquish ownership through a deed in lieu of foreclosure.

Fannie Mae’s Deed for Lease program is also available to qualified borrowers who had previously been granted a loan modification but were unable to keep up their payments.

The homes will be leased at market rates, and borrowers or tenants will qualify to stay only if they can document that rent does not exceed 31 percent of their gross income.

“This new program helps eliminate some of the uncertainty of foreclosure, keeps families and tenants in their homes during a transitional period, and helps to stabilize neighborhoods and communities,” said Fannie Mae Vice President Jay Ryan in a press release.

Like short sales, deeds in lieu of foreclosure allow troubled borrowers to avoid the foreclosure process, which can be expensive for lenders and damage homeowners’ credit ratings for years.

Critics say that when home prices in some markets began falling and the financial crisis took hold, many loan servicers were too slow to embrace short sales.

Instead of allowing some homes headed to foreclosure to be sold for less than what the borrower owes and forgiving the difference, lenders have often preferred to repossess them.

In the process, they have built up large inventories of “real estate owned” (REO) properties — many worth less than what prospective buyers were willing to pay in a short sale.

In its most recent quarterly report to investors, Fannie Mae said its loan servicers completed 13,086 short sales during the first six months of the year — a 26 percent increase from… (continue reading)

You Have Real Estate Questions? We Have Answers

The direction and health of the housing market is on everyone’s mind. We tackle the 25 biggest real estate questions

By Prashant Gopal

Ming Dong, a 37-year-old biochemist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory near San Francisco and a regular reader of housing blogs, needs some answers before placing his bet on real estate. He’d be happy with an unbiased answer to one question in particular: “Has the housing market hit bottom?”

“I’m waiting for more information to make a decision whether to buy now or a couple years later,” said Dong, a renter who hopes to buy his first home for about $500,000. “Different bloggers and different experts give different perspectives. And if you listen to the National Association of Realtors, it’s always a good time to buy. Even in 2008, they said it was a good time to buy. How can you believe them?”

This week’s BusinessWeek.com real estate slide show takes a crack at answering Dong’s question, and 24 other housing questions, including another handful posed by readers: Which direction are interest rates likely to move in the next year? Why are homebuilders starting work again when they still have homes left to sell? What home improvements add the most value with the least investment? Can the National Association of Realtors’ housing data be trusted?

(We’ll admit that our answer to Dong’s question is a bit of a cop-out. We provided strong arguments from optimists and pessimists and—like Fox News says—we thought we’d let you decide).

Declines for Inflated Home Markets?

Tom Stratton, a 26-year-old Purdue University PhD candidate, thinks the market as a whole has probably stabilized but wonders whether price declines are in store for markets where values are still inflated compared with local incomes. Stratton is especially interested in Berkeley, Calif., where he’d like to start his academic career. The median home value in Berkeley in July was $665,000, down just 4% from a year earlier, according to Zillow.com. And the median income for a family in 2007 was $93,297, according to the U.S. Census.

“You have families out here making $150,000 a year but can you really afford an $800,000 home on that salary?” Stratton asked.

Existing residents can afford to live in pricey markets such as Berkeley because many of them bought houses decades ago before property taxes and home values reached stratospheric levels. Once longtime residents leave (a likelihood if unemployment rises), prices could take a dive. Berkeley has the advantage of being home to the University of California; college jobs have been relatively recession-resistant. Real estate consultant John Burns said the worst-hit markets have already fallen back to 2002-2003 prices. The other high-priced markets could follow.

Baby Boomers’ Influence on Prices

Wes Dumey, a 31-year-old software engineer in Tampa with a graduate degree in economics, wonders how the aging baby boomers will determine future housing trends. Dumey’s parents, now in their late 50s, recently told him they’d likely leave their three-bedroom home and find a smaller condo when they retire. Dumey questions whether younger buyers will step in to fill the large homes the boomers vacate.

“From my personal experience, there’s no way I would buy a large house like that,” Dumey said, “when you factor in insurance, property taxes, utilities, and—if you look at the state of Florida—you can have a $400 or $500 electric bill for air-conditioning a house for 10 months out of the year.”

Burns expects that homes smaller than 3,000 square feet will be in greater demand in the future. So-called echo boomers prefer urban digs to suburban sprawl and they prize energy efficiency, not only because it’s good for the environment, but because it’s cost-efficient.

“Baby boomers are going to be interested in downsizing because smaller homes are easier to maintain,” Burns said. “Generation Y is much more interested in urban environments and not spending their time on the freeway.”

Click here to find the answers to today’s biggest real estate questions

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